GOP senators rebuke Defense Secretary Austin for unanswered questions on Chinese spy craft: ‘Unacceptable’
Republican Senators Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said Wednesday that the Pentagon has not answered their oversight questions on the Biden administration’s response to the Chinese spy craft detected in U.S. airspace last month.
In a letter addressed to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the GOP lawmakers accused the Pentagon of dragging its feet to respond to a request they sent on Feb. 8 asking for a timeline of events before an F-22 fighter jet, under orders from President Biden, shot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 24. Rubio and Wicker, who are the top Republicans on the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees, respectively, want clarification on when senior officials learned about the balloon and when Biden was provided options to respond. The letter was first reported by Politico.
They said that Under Secretary for Defense for Policy Colin Kahl responded 10 days after their deadline on Feb. 27, and refused to answer their questions, directing them to the briefings the Biden administration provided to senators on Feb. 9 and Feb. 14.
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“This response, which we interpret as reflective of your position, is unacceptable,” the senators wrote to Austin. “We attended both briefings and can say with utmost certainty that Dr. Kahl’s contention is wrong: many of our oversight questions about the administration’s immediate response to the Chinese surveillance balloon remain unanswered.”
Their inquiry revolves around the understanding that Gen. Glen VanHerck, the leader of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, alerted his chain of command of the ballon on Jan. 28, as it was flying over the Aleutian Islands. But according to the senators, Austin did not learn of the balloon until at least a few days later, by which time it had traveled across Alaska and Canada and reentered U.S. airspace.
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“As the Department’s senior policy official, Dr. Kahl likely would have been involved in briefing you on the balloon and developing response options,” the senators wrote. “Alternatively, if Dr. Kahl did not play this role during the balloon crisis, learned of the balloon belatedly, or declined to provide response options while the balloon was over unpopulated regions of Alaska and Canada, that is something that Congress should understand.
“Instead, Dr. Kahl is simply declining to answer questions on your behalf.”
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Rubio and Wicker suggested Kahl was “spearheading a communications strategy that aims to hide the administration’s early missteps.” They blasted Kahl for leaking previously classified information about Chinese balloons being discovered during former President Donald Trump’s administration.
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“It remains unclear whether this leak was cleared internally through the proper channels. Either way, it was a brazen attempt to shift blame,” the senators wrote. “We sincerely hope you will hold Dr. Kahl accountable for his politicization of previously classified material.”